New Chinese laws up the stakes for illegal gamblers

Jon Pill
Posted on: January 02, 2021 17:37 PST

Many thanks to China Law Translate for the English language translation of Amendment XI used below.

The Committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislative branch, concluded its most recent session on Saturday. The session resulted in an amendment that adjusts the People's Republic of China's criminal code. Part of the code, just three paragraphs, amounts to a brutal crack down on illegal gamblers.

The new law allows for fines and prison sentences for anyone just gathering people to gamble. Sentences go as high as ten years in prison and a concurrent fine for casino operators. The law also makes advertising gambling businesses to Chinese citizens a crime. This law applies even to people overseas.

It remains to be seen how China-centric poker sites like Natural8 and its parent GGPoker will respond to these changes. If at all.

Chinese democracy

Amendment XI makes a wide range of changes to the PRC's Criminal Law. It covers areas as diverse as criminalizing the throwing of objects off of high buildings and in-vitro clone production. Determining the criminal liability of under-16s to regulating fake medicines.

But the majority of these amendments focus on China's financial markets, which are a key point of interest for the state this year. Fraudulent company prospectuses, corporate espionage, and the futures market are just a few of the areas to get legal overhauls.

For poker players though, the key clause is #30. This applies to Article 303 of the Criminal Law. The translated law reads in part: "Gathering people to gamble or having gambling as a business for the purpose of profit, is punishable by up to three years imprisonment, short-term detention, controlled release, and a concurrent fine."

The sentences are upped to five years for operating a casino. Or five to ten years where "circumstances are serious."

Most significantly for online poker operators, this law applies to people overseas who "appoint, organize, and solicit citizens of the PRC to go abroad and participate in gambling" in cases where "the amount in question is huge or there are other serious circumstances."

Poker harder

The rules on advertising echo the South Korean law that criminalizes overseas gambling for its own citizens. However, the wording targets overseas operators.

In doing so, it hugely expands the ways in which online poker sites serving Chinese players are breaking Chinese law. Just running online ads could get poker sites in trouble if they are viewable in China.

It seems like PokerStars was wise to pull out of China-associated markets earlier in the year. How GGPoker will respond remains to be seen.

It is also unclear how hard the change will hit Macau, the world's main hub for obscenely-high-stakes poker.

This year, mainland China has worked hard to crack down on the movement of their currency, the renminbi. In particular, China targeted Macau and its junket industry.

The new amendment makes it even harder for the already set-upon junket trade. Not only have they had currency exchange loopholes tightened up, but now, just advertising their business is enough for a ticket to a labor camp.

This all comes at the worst possible time for Macau. The island is only just showing signs of recovery from 2020's travel restrictions. Their hotel occupancy is up to 70% compared to last year. A drop of just 30% is considered good news this year. From January to October, eight or nine out of ten rooms on the island were going vacant.

One thing is for sure. How aggressively this new law is enforced, is likely to change a great deal about how the poker economy works.

Featured image source: Flickr